Read Parrot Blues Online

Authors: Judith Van Gieson

Parrot Blues (8 page)

You got six hundred thousand worth of testosterone stock to sell?” Charlie asked Terrance.

“Not right now I don't. The company's just getting off the ground.” Terrance looked around for an ashtray and settled on an empty wastepaper basket.

“Well then, where's the money comin' from?”

“I can come up with four. I'm asking you to lend the rest.”

“Thousand-dollar bills are still legal tender, but they're not being printed anymore. If I get them, I'm supposed to turn them over to the Federal Reserve.”

“I know. You lend me two hundred, I'll come up with the thousand-dollar bills.” Terrance didn't say where he'd get the bills, but the Indian gambling casinos we have in New Mexico were one possible source. If that didn't work, there was always Las Vegas. He peered down at the carpet, poked it with his boot and made an unsuccessful stab at humility.

There was a pause while they studied each other and Charlie considered how much of Terrance's hide he wanted or how badly he wanted Deborah to be rescued. It was a long pause. “How's the kidnapper going to access Deborah's account?” he asked finally.

“He's got her ATM card.” Terrance shrugged. “He'll twist her arm till he gets the PIN.”

“What do I get for collateral?”

“My word.”

“Your word's not going to satisfy my shareholders.”

“You only need the money for an hour, Charlie. Your guys can program the machines so that once the two is taken out of one machine, the others shut down.”

“My systems analyst is a woman.”

“She can do it then,” Terrance replied.

“She's good, but I'm still taking a two hundred thousand risk.”

“What risk?”

“Well, like I said, I do have my shareholders to consider. I'll need some collateral.” Charlie seemed to enjoy tossing around the word shareholders, but my impression was that he ran BankWest exactly as he wanted to run it, by the seat of his pants.

“What are we talking?” asked Terrance.

“Your Lochovers.” This was where they'd known the negotiations were heading, but to them the contest was more fun than the goal. “There's an empty space on my wall needs to be filled up.”

“Looks good empty; sets off what you already have.”

“No collateral, no deal.”

“All right. I'll put up

Charlie shook his head, and his hair was spun gold under the overhead light. “That's an inferior

“Bullshit. It's one of his best.”

“It's not enough, Lewellen.”

“What do you want?”

“What have you got?”

Terrance paused before he spoke. “
Riverrun, Gila Bend,
Santa Barbara Canyon.

Charlie thought before he answered. “Give me all of them,” he said.

“That's highway robbery.”

“Those are my terms,” Charlie said. “Take 'em or leave 'em.”

“All right,” Terrance growled. “You get the paintings for one hour, the duration of the ATM transaction. Neil will write up a collateral agreement.”

Charlie shook his head. “One month.”

“What the hell for?”

“So I can look at them.”

“Two weeks.”

“If anything goes wrong, the bank keeps the paintings to cover my losses. We'll use your insurance appraisals to determine value.” Knowing Terrance, the insurance appraisals were way inflated, but he didn't argue the point. The game was over; Register had won. “I want you to know I'm agreeing to this only because Deborah's in danger,” Charlie said.

“Yeah,” said Terrance. The starch had gone out of his shirt, but not for long; he was already looking for the next challenge. “Set it up so we can watch the transfer on your monitors, will you?”

“I'll do that.”

“And while you're at it, why don't you take the Spanish off your ATM screens. This is America. Let those wets learn English.”

“Spanish has been around these parts since 1540,” Charlie said.

“The Indians were here before that. Why don't you put Indian on your screens too?”

“In some places we do.”

“You'll get the papers drawn up by tomorrow morning?” Terrance asked me.

“Yeah,” I said. “The bills used for the transfer should be xeroxed.”

“Good idea,” said Charlie.

“What for?” demanded Terrance.

“To record the serial numbers so they can be traced,” I said.

“I'll get somebody on it,” Charlie said.


business that day, including a trip to family court, a place I dislike more than any other. The family court judge receives a lot of death threats, and it's easy to understand why. Anybody who has the power to take somebody's kids away is not going to be popular. My client, Tommy Denton, had already lost his son and was trying to get him back. The judge ordered tests and counseling. Nothing was concluded, everything was postponed; that's to be expected in family court. When we were done, I took Tommy to La Posada for a drink. It was happy hour, the band had a retro blues singer with the raspy voice of a Janis Joplin without the Southern Comfort. La Po is full of hand-carved beams and Old Mexico charm. Tommy had the blues; we stayed too long.

It was getting dark when we left the bar. Tommy had parked his pickup beside a yellow curb and had accumulated two parking tickets. A true New Mexican, he ripped the tickets into pieces and let the wind goddess carry them away. He climbed into his one-eyed Ford, thanked me for my help and offered me a ride to my Nissan. I declined; the car was only a few blocks away, and I felt like walking. A cowboy and a cowgirl passed me on their way to La Po. She wore a hat and a black dress with cut-out ovals for her shoulders. He wore a black hat and gloves with cuffs wide enough to convince me he was only a cowboy for the night. You see lots of one-night cowpokes around here. It was a change from daytime when the suits (male and female) walk around with cell phones on their ears.

A kid on a skateboard jumped the curb and let out a whoop. A police siren whined. The night had a raw and sensual edge. I wondered where the Kid was and what he was doing, but I put that thought out of my head because I had to get back to my office and prepare the agreement for Terrance Lewellen's collateral.

My car was only a few blocks closer than my office, but nobody in Albuquerque ever stops to think if the distance is worth the gas. Downtown street life is intense but narrow, and in a few blocks I was out of it, all alone on the empty sidewalk except for the homeless woman who'd made her ragged bed in an office building's vestibule. It looked snug if you didn't get too close and the wind was blowing the dumpster smell away. The homeless woman sat up, stuck out her hand and said excuse me in a loud voice. I slipped her a five and crossed the street, stepping one inch too close to the truck that was parked in front of the Nissan. “Back off,” the truck squawked, “protected by the Viper.”

“Shut up,” I said, inserting my key in my lock. The only protection the Nissan had was that it was too shabby to steal. I drove it to Hamel and Harrison and pulled into the narrow driveway that abuts our
A full-sized car would scrape its fenders against the wall; we've got the gouges in the stucco to prove it. As I passed the grated windows on the driveway side, I noticed that a light was on deep in my office. It had been daylight when I left. Had Anna left the light on? I wondered for the brief instant before it went out.

Our parking lot is right behind the building, with spaces marked
. None of them were occupied, but I didn't park there. I kept going down the one-lane access road till I reached the lot behind Sanchez and Sanchez, our neighboring lawyers. I pulled in, turned off the engine, reached into my purse, found what I wanted, opened the car door, picked up the running shoes on the floor and put them on. I walked down the driveway as careful as a scout, keeping close to the shadows of the buildings, glad I wasn't in Anna's or Deborah's spike-heeled shoes. Something long, dark and feral slipped behind a garbage can and set a metal lid that was lying on the ground rattling. A police siren wailed from the direction of Central. It might have been prudent to call the police, but by the time they got here the intruder—if there was an intruder—could be long gone. I wanted to know who he or she was, and what that person was looking for. It's moments like this that make me wish Hamel and Harrison had an alarm system to respond to break-ins with strobe lights and barking dogs. The deadliest part of most robberies is walking in on a thief, but that's when the person being robbed is unprepared and the robber is a frightened teenager looking for cash and/or alcohol. You weren't likely to find any cash or alcohol at Hamel and Harrison, and I wasn't expecting to find a frightened teenager.

The only way to break into our office is through the back door; we have bars on the windows and front door. The bars are not impenetrable, but they'd take most of the night to get off. As I rounded the parking lot corner I could see that the back door had been jimmied open.

I might have waited for the intruder to come out, but I wasn't sure he or she was still in, and waiting has never been my MO. If I did it my way, I had surprise on my side and the possibility of discovering exactly what the intruder was after. The streetlights on Lead were bright enough to turn the edges of the parking lot dark and fluid. I submerged myself in the shadows as I circumnavigated the lot. When I reached the back stoop, I waited for a bass on wheels to cruise down Lead. Concealing my own noise in the beat, I carefully pushed the jimmied door open. As I stepped into the hallway I saw that the light in my office was on again. I know the places where the hallway floor squeaks and I avoided them, making my way slowly, timing each footstep to the beat of a passing car. I passed the confusion that was Brink's office, the bathroom that needed cleaning, and stood beside the doorway to my own mess. I took a deep breath, wondering if I was going to find a stranger or an acquaintance, a professional or an amateur, a cowboy or a yuppie, a man or a woman, a handgun or a semiautomatic. I clutched my weapon, extended my arm and stepped into the office.

“Don't move,” I said, sinking into a crouch and giving the Punch a shake. Supposedly, its range is
feet in still air. The air in my office was so still it was dead, and the space was only twelve feet wide. I had it covered.

The intruder was bent over my filing cabinet with a pocket light in hand, absorbed in deciphering the filing system. I could have saved him the trouble had he asked; there isn't one. While he looked up and slowly comprehended what was happening, I hit the light switch on the wall, blinked and took a good look around the office. The computer on my desk had been turned on. Apparently he had already made his way through the computer files, not an impossible task for a scientifically minded person, but he wouldn't have found anything there. He wouldn't find anything in my file cabinet either. Most of the evidence in the case he was investigating was oral: the tape Terrance Lewellen had made of the kidnapping, the microcassettes I had made of my conversations with the R line.

I'd left them in my desk drawer, unmarked, Terrance's on the left, mine on the right. That was my filing system. The only written evidence, other than my fee arrangement with Terrance Lewellen, was the note from the kidnapper, and that happened to be in my car along with a lock of hair and a parrot feather.

“Oh, shit,” the intruder said. He was wearing jeans, a T-shirt and granny glasses. His name was Rick Olney. He didn't have the knee-jerk reaction of so many breakers and enterers. If he had a weapon, he wasn't going for it.

that stuff?” he asked.

“Capsicum spray. You move and you'll be blind, vomiting, choking and gasping for breath. And that's just for starters. You're not packing, are you?”

“You mean do I have a weapon?”



“Get up.” I made him go over to the wall and lean against it with his arms extended and his forehead to the plaster. His glasses fell off as he put his face to the wall, and he made a motion to pick them up. “Leave them,” I said. I picked up the glasses myself and put them on my desk. Aiming the red pepper spray at his head with one hand, I frisked him with the other, feeling him tremble under the touch of my free hand. Fear? I wondered. I'd never felt anybody tremble in fear. I'd never felt such a red blood cell rush of power either. It wasn't a feeling I wanted to get rid of, but it wasn't a feeling I'd want to remember. At the end of my search I discovered that he was unarmed, that he had nothing in his pockets that belonged to me, that he had a good body and that I could be just as excited by power and a good body as anyone else. I ordered him to sit down in a client chair.

He reached behind him and straightened his ponytail. “I'm really sorry about this,” he said.

“You oughta be. Breaking and entering is a crime punishable by—”

“You're not going to file charges, are you?” He blinked his eyes, trying to bring me into focus.
had nice eyes without the glasses, brown and soft.

“Why not?”

“It would ruin my career.”

“Looks to me like you're trying to ruin my career.”

“There'd be no one left to run the lab if I went to jail.” True enough. “I didn't take anything.”

“Not for lack of trying.”

“I'll pay you for the door. I promise. Don't tell Terrance you found me here.”

“I have to tell Terrance; he's my client.”

“Oh, God,” he said. “I'll be in jail forever if he has anything to say about it.”

I didn't think so. Terrance needed Rick Olney to manage the lab and take care of his parrot. “What were you looking for?” I asked.

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